Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pen and ink master Gene Matras

Gene Matras’ pen and ink drawings have been winning awards for more than twenty years.

Gene has no formal training. As a child, he loved to draw country scenes of rural Poland. He lived in the tiny town of Dobre, until his family emigrated to Manchester, New Hampshire in 1960.

Because he also liked to tinker with things, Gene attended vocational school in Manchester and planned to be a welder. A perceptive instructor encouraged him to forget welding and pursue a career in art after seeing some of Gene’s drawings.

He started working in pencil and eventually switched to pen and ink. Gene says he initially resisted pen and ink because it was so hard edged. After much hard work, he learned how to produce the soft tones in pen and ink that he could get with pencil.

As an artist and former technical illustrator, I can attest to the amount of work that goes into pen and ink renderings of this caliber. But it’s Gene’s superb draftsmanship and compositions that really make his work stand out.

It took years to build a following and a body of work that would support him, but Gene kept at it. He began publishing offset lithographic prints in limited editions, hand signing and numbering each one.

Gene is finally a self-sufficient artist. He admits that it has often been a struggle, but you get the feeling he has no regrets.

He lives with his wife and five children on their homestead in Pittsfield, New Hampshire where they enjoy keeping animals and gardening. Most of his work is based on old-time farm life and the trees, mountains and wildlife of New England.

Take a look at Gene’s wonderful artwork on his website at and then call him at 603-435-8214 to place an order.

Gene’s work is available framed or unframed. I can testify from personal experience that his service is excellent and his prints make much appreciated gifts. Click on the images to see the exquisite detail.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mesopotamian Mess

As if we needed additional proof that war has no morality beyond self-justified destruction of everything in its path, I recently learned that part of the archaeological site of the ancient city of Babylon was commandeered to build a fuel supply depot for American military helicopters.

According to a report commissioned by the British Museum, U.S. troops built embankments, dug ditches and spread gravel to hold the fuel reservoirs needed to supply the helicopters. Fragments of 8000 year-old bricks engraved with cuneiform characters lie mixed with the rubble and sandbags left by the US military. 6th Century BC brick roadways, gates and monuments have been shattered.

Not only have irreplaceable ruins at a site that is one of the cradles of world civilization been permanently damaged by unregulated construction, vandalism, earth removal and filling with imported gravel; but the site has also been contaminated by spilled fuel seeping into the archaeological ruins.

We have destroyed an 8000 year-old archaelogical site to help carry out an illegal, imperialistic, unprovoked war in Iraq.

Does it matter to anyone?

A Country of Laws Revisited

In an earlier post, I stated that the United States is a country of laws. The events of the last year suggest this is no longer true.

When the President and Vice-President of the United States can decide they are above the law, when financial industry executives can be financially rewarded for playing fast and loose with the law, when powerful corporate interests can change the law to reduce their taxes and increase their profits, when oil and coal companies can ignore environmental laws or get Congress to build in loopholes, and when big companies can peddle everything from drugs to toys that are not safe, this is not a country of laws.

Deregulation and emasculation of corporate law have made the United States only selectively a country of laws. The citizenry is still required to live and work by the laws, but those special interests with money and access to government through campaign funds and lobbyists are not.

The citizens of the United States are victims of a strategic campaign by big business and big money. We were conned into believing that deregulation is good for everyone when it only benefits those being deregulated. We were tricked into thinking that wealth somehow trickles down from the top when it only makes the rich richer. We were deceived into supporting an illegal war against terrorism, when all it accomplished is to feed the greed of government contractors and gain eventual control of Iraq’s oil supplies. The laws were changed over the last thirty years to make all of this possible.

These pirates have raped and pillaged our government, our retirement accounts and our home equity. They’ll walk away from this economic crisis with big homes, big bank accounts and big inheritances for their grandchildren. We’ll crawl away with bigger mortgages, higher taxes and nothing for our grandchildren except debt.

Justice is optional in a country of laws, when the laws are selective.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Flat world job hunting

In the flattened, web-based world of the 21st Century, our children and grandchildren will compete for the best jobs with young people from India, China, Germany and Brazil.

They’ll no longer compete only with people from their own culture for high-paying jobs. They’ll compete with a larger pool of applicants with great skills and experiences.

It may be a lot like the high school basketball star who goes off to college only to find that he/she can’t even make the varsity team.

Our kids are counting on us to give them the education and training they need to compete. We can’t short-change them.


We have a pair of bald eagles that nest up on the mountainside behind the village of Monroe. They soar over the lakes formed by the hydro-electric dams on the Connecticut River looking for fish or small animals. I always hope to see one swoop down to catch a fish, but I haven’t yet.

One day last summer, one passed right over the car no more than a hundred feet above me. I felt a shiver as I watched it through the open sunroof.

Eagles are huge, majestic birds that are experts at riding air currents for hours on end. They seem to know right where to find the thermal updrafts and use them to gain altitude to save precious energy during long hunts for food. If it’s a bright sunny day, their white head and tail feathers turn shockingly bright when the sun catches them just right.

The river ice thawed during this week’s warm spell, leaving most of the river open water. I was surprised to see three eagles soaring over the river. I wondered if one was a young bird that has yet to leave the nest.

A Country of Laws

The United States is a country of laws. People who break the law must be prosecuted.

While it will be a distraction from the work ahead of us, it’s critical to uphold the law. A thorough and impartial investigation of the Bush Administration's actions is in the best interest of the country and preserves the integrity of the US Constitution.

The victims of the Bush Administration's decisions deserve justice. Illegally slain US soldiers, wounded American veterans, dead Iraqi civilians, tortured prisoners, wiretapped American citizens and neglected Hurricane Katrina victims all deserve their day in court.

Justice is not optional in a country of laws. It’s mandatory.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Big Alice

In 1969, I bought a 1948 Buick Special 4-door sedan from my friend, Malcolm Lee. He bought the car a few weeks earlier from the original owners, an elderly couple from Acton, Massachusetts.

We christened her Big Alice. In spite of having clocked almost a hundred thousand miles, she was in remarkably good condition. Her dark green paint glistened. Her wide whitewall tires gleamed. And her abundant chrome trim sparkled.

The dinner-plate-sized fog lamps mounted on her front bumper were impressive. Her pin-striped horsehair seats were high and comfortable. Her massive chrome radio dial and speaker grill were flanked by an elegant instrument panel. Big Alice was a regal ride.

In addition to getting me back and forth to work every day, Big Alice carried our young family in style to weddings and other family events. She offered just the right combination of elegance and non-conformity.

My wife and I were driving home from visiting her parents one night, when a New Hampshire State Trooper stopped us. The inquisitive young officer shined his flashlight in the window at me, then at my wife and finally at our two young children sleeping on the back seat.

“Can I see your license and registration?” he barked. It was more a command than a question.

I handed him the two documents. He carefully studied them with his flashlight.

“Who’s the woman in the passenger seat,” he asked.

“My wife.”

“Where are you going?”

“We’re just heading home to Lincoln, Massachusetts after visiting my wife’s parents up in Hollis.”

“Stay in the car please,” he ordered.

He walked back to his cruiser and got inside. I was concerned that the flashing blue lights would wake the kids, but they slept though it all.

After what seemed like an hour, the trooper walked back up beside the driver’s door and handed me the license and registration.

“Sorry about the wait. I thought you were someone else,” he growled. Then he turned and walked back to his car again.

I put Big Alice in gear and pulled away.

Several months later, I was unable to get an inspection sticker due to worn kingpins in the front end. I couldn’t find replacement parts and had no place to store her, so I put Big Alice up for sale. A young man about my age bought her.

I was driving along Route 2 in Concord just west of the Prison rotary about a year later, when I saw her pulled off onto the shoulder. I pulled up behind to take a look.

She was like an old girlfriend who had seen hard times since we last dated. Her smooth finish had been repainted a darker shade of green, but it was full of runs and dust. One of her fog lamps was broken. Her once immaculate cloth upholstery was torn and stained, and her floors were littered with trash. I hoped it might be a different car, but the hand-painted Alice’s Restaurant sign that adorned the small passenger side back window was still there.

I climbed back into my car and drove away, watching her get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror.

I still wonder if there was another dark green 1948 Buick carrying a carload of criminals around southern New Hampshire that night.